Profile: Julie Chichlowski
Maser of Business Administration, 1989
Director, Trike Platform Division, Harley-Davidson Motor Co.
Tomboy | At Iowa State University, Chichlowski majored in industrial engineering and was often the lone female in her classes. When she took a job as a propulsion systems engineer at GE Aircraft Engines in Cincinnati, she was outnumbered as well. So it was no big deal when Harley-Davidson called her to come in for an interview. Sort of.
Surprise | “I thought—Harley?” She knew nothing about motorcycles. She’d never ridden a bike. When she visited a local Harley dealership as part of her evaluation process, though, she was taken by surprise. “I thought, Oh boy. This is a different culture.”
You’re Hired | That was in 1992. She was hired as a manufacturing engineer to run the power train assembly process at the company’s Milwaukee headquarters but progressed swiftly up the ranks, changing positions every two or three years. Her newest position as director of Trike Platform puts her in charge of the three-wheeled bike that debuted in 2008.
One of the Guys | “It was a very good decision to come here. There aren’t very many women here, but it’s very similar to what I experienced going through engineering school. There are pockets where it’s very male-dominated and so was GE Aircraft. I’ve never dwelled on it, and I haven’t run into any problems. I did recognize that I need to understand the product and be credible with what I’m talking about. It’s the tone that you set for yourself. I know how to tear down and build up a power train.”
Product Knowledge | She even took it one step further and bought her own bike—a Sportster, just the right size for her. “I took my motorcycle safety course and learned how to ride.” She’s since upgraded to a Softail. “The suspension is hidden under the swing arm in the rear. It has a 96-cubic-inch power train, a very classic bike. Mine is red.” It’s also larger than the 88-cubic-inch engine bike her husband owns. They take day trips together and go on road rallies for the company.
Change is Good | Chichlowski believes her role at Harley has helped usher in some important changes at the company. While the traditional rebel image of the Harley rider is still strongly in place, there are more women buying bikes—12 percent of buyers today compared to 7 percent in the early 1990s—and older riders are scaling back. Baby Boomers who don’t want to give up their Harleys are buying the Trike, the three-wheeled bike that offers stability and cargo space without sacrificing the traditional Harley look and feel.
Safety First | In May, her contributions to the industry were recognized with her appointment as chair of the non-profit Motorcycle Safety Foundation, a group of motorcycle manufacturers that promotes safe riding behaviors through public service marketing and safety training programs. It’s volunteer work she enthusiastically performs because she’s become a true fan of motorcycle riding.
Thriller | “What’s fun about being on a bike is the thrill. It’s very exciting and freeing and empowering, and it’s not very common for women to be on Harleys. But it feels good to know you can do this and it’s a lot of fun. I was surprised that I liked it. It’s a lot more complicated than I thought, and it’s fun to be able to ride all my products.”